Gingrich Catching Up With Romney, Poll Shows

A surging Newt Gingrich has the momentum in a tight race with Mitt Romney in Florida, a poll of Republicans planning to vote in the state’s Jan. 31 presidential primary shows.

Romney has 36 percent support while Gingrich is backed by 34 percent in the survey released today by Hamden, Connecticut- based Quinnipiac University.

The survey of 601 likely Republican primary voters conducted from Jan. 19-23 shows increased support for Gingrich following his 12 percentage point victory over of Romney in the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary. Gingrich led Romney by 6 points among voters polled after the South Carolina contest while Romney led by 11 points among voters surveyed before.

“Gingrich’s South Carolina victory clearly gives him a boost in Florida,” Peter A. Brown, the assistant director of the university’s polling institute, said in a news release accompaning the poll. “The question is whether there is more of that to come, or whether any bump from a previous victory will dissipate.”

Brown termed the Florida race “essentially a dead heat,” and said Romney and Gingrich are in a “two-man race” in the state, where the primary winner will receive all of the state’s 50 convention delegates. Former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, the winner of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, has 13 percent in today’s poll and Texas U.S. Representative Ron Paul has 10 percent.

Previous Polls

Romney led Gingrich 36 percent to 24 percent in Florida in a Quinnipiac poll released Jan. 9, the day before Romney won the New Hampshire primary by 16 points.

In a sign of the race’s volatility, Gingrich ran ahead of Romney, 35 percent to 22 percent, in a Quinnipiac poll released Dec. 8.

Today’s poll today shows that Florida Republicans see Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, as a better steward of the economy and a stronger general election candidate than Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker. They see Gingrich, though, as better-prepared to serve as chief executive.

Romney led Gingrich by 17 percentage points on handling the economy and by 14 points on who is best able to defeat President Barack Obama. Gingrich led Romney by 19 points on “having the knowledge and experience necessary to be a good president.”

Gingrich also led by 27 points on handling foreign policy.

According to the poll, 61 percent said they have decided on a candidate while 38 percent said they could change their mind before next week’s primary.

Television Advertising

Gingrich rose in Florida even as Romney and his allies blanketed the state with television advertisements over the past few weeks. Romney and a political committee backing his candidacy spent $6.9 million on broadcast television ads through Jan. 23, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising. No other Republican candidate aired television ads through then, CMAG data show.

Winning Our Future, a political action committee supporting Gingrich while operating independently of his campaign, bought $6 million of advertising time in the state yesterday and released an ad painting Romney as aligned with Obama, said Rick Tyler, a strategist for the group.

The Quinnipiac poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The margins of error were plus or minus 6.2 percentage points for the 254 voters surveyed before the South Carolina results, and plus or minus 5.3 percentage points for the 347 voters contacted after the vote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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